• Technique vs. Intensity in CrossFit – Why Scaling is so important

    As CrossFit has exploded over the years a lot of things have changed.  The Games have changed from essentially a backyard BBQ on a dusty ranch to a spectacle of fitness that awards over 1 million dollars in prize money.  Reebok has come on as a title sponsor (anyone remember when Inov-8’s or chuck taylors were the “crossfit shoe”?). More and more people are doing CrossFit at their local affiliates and not in their garages following crossfit.com or getting kicked out of YMCA’s or Gold’s Gyms.  I also have a sneaking suspicion that a very high percentage of people who have started CrossFit after 2013 or so do not read the CrossFit journal.   If this is you, I would strongly encourage that you do a little bit of searching.  There are tons of free journal articles that do not require subscription and tons more free journal content that has been put on YouTube.  If you do not know Greg Glassman (founder and CEO), you need to.  There is something magical about the way this man talks.  He knows everything about what he’s trying to accomplish with CrossFit so inside and out that it will make your head spin.
    Lacey and I had the pleasure of meeting him for a brief moment at the 2012 Regionals.  We were in the middle of day 2 of competition and Dave Castro came over and said he wanted to introduce us to Coach Glassman.  At was around this time that we had started thinking about the idea of opening our own gym.  We didn’t have the money, we didn’t know anything about running a business, but after 2-3 minutes of speaking with Coach Glassman the decision was made – and less than 2 months later we had keys to our building.  I remember every word he said.  That’s the kind of man he is.
    Bit of a tangent there- go check out some CrossFit Journal.

    I want to bring some of the most important ideas I’ve learned through the CrossFit Journal, and had the ability to draw upon as coach over the last several years.


    Every rep should not look perfect every time – Here’s why.

    tech vs intensity

    The image above represents 3 athletes of varying abilities.  Athletes are asked to perform 5 Clean & Jerks at 155lbs as fast as they can.  Each athlete finishes in exactly 20 seconds.  The scatterplots above represent the athlete’s ability to “hit the bullseye” in terms of technique.  What can we learn from this?


    Athlete 1 – 5 reps in 20 seconds. Every rep looks basically the exact same.  Nice and efficient.  Could this athlete go faster and still keep respectable technique? Absolutely.  And that should be the focus for this athlete.  Pushing the pace will yield a higher average power output and more of all the results we are looking for (strength, power, endurance, but also increased lung capacity, lower blood pressure, decreased body fat and triglycerides, etc). This athlete could be working harder.

    Athlete 2 – 5 reps in 20 seconds.  Not every rep looks quite the same. One maybe has a bit of a pressout on the jerk, maybe a slight early arm bend on the pull during the clean, but the reps are being completed quickly and in a way that doesn’t propose any immediate safety concerns for the athlete.  Every now and then there may be a rep that’s a little iffy, but that comes with pushing the pace.  It is clear this athlete is working at or near the limits of their ability.  This is where we want to be.

    Athlete 3 – 5 reps in 20 seconds.  Things are starting to degrade.  Lower back is rounding on the pull, overhead position is unstable, and generally movement looks sloppy.  This weight is clearly too heavy for this athlete to perform at high intensity.  There are a couple of reasons this may occur.  The weight could simply just be too heavy for the athlete, or if this is a newer athlete the motor patterns for proper technique may not yet be developed to a level that allows them to use this weight.  In either case, the athlete or coach should strip of some weight such that the athlete can achieve both acceptable technique and high intensity.

    There is a great video in the CrossFit Journal of Dave Castro explaining this concept very well:


    CrossFit Intensity Explained and Why Scaling Can Equal Better Results

    Watch this, it will help. We’re getting mathematical.

    Intensity is directly related to power output.  It’s not how hard you think you worked, or how much your sweating, its actually measurable.

    Work = Force x Distance
    Ex. A 6ft tall man power cleaning 135lbs.
    135 lbs x 5ft (estimating 5ft to the shoulders) = 675 ft/lbs of Work

    Power = (Force x Distance) / Time
    aka Work / Time

    If we use the example of the workout “Grace” 30 Clean and Jerks at 135lbs we can find the following data based on how long the workout takes.

    Work = 135lbs x 7 ft (estimating barbell overhead is 7ft)

    = 945 ft/lbs  (x30 reps) = 28,350 ft/lbs

    Power = 28,350 ft/lbs / time

    If the workout takes 1:30 the average power output is 315 ft/lbs per second

    If the workout takes 3:00 the average power output is 157.5 ft/lbs per second

    If the workout takes 5:00 the average power output 94.5 ft/lbs per second

    Remember Average Power is directly related to Intensity and all the results we are trying to achieve.

    Let’s look at another example and why scaling properly is SO important.

    Using a WOD we did earlier this week (10 min AMRAP- 10 OHS @95/65, 10 T2B)

    We’re going to assume the T2B work = ½ of your mass moving a distance of 3 ft, and we’ll use the example of a woman who weighs 150lbs.

    Workout completed with full T2B and 65lbs yields a result of 3 Rounds + 4 reps

    30 reps of T2B = 75lbs (1/2 of BW) x 3ft (agreed upon distance)
    = 30 x 225 ft/lbs
    = 6750 ft/lbs of work from 30 T2B

    34 reps of OHS @ 65lbs
    = 34 reps x 150lbs BW + 65lbs barbell / 2 ft distance
    = 34 reps x 430 ft/lbs
    = 14,620 ft/lbs of work from 34 reps of OHS

    Total work = 6750 + 14,620 = 21,370 ft/lbs
    Average Power Output = 21,370 ft/lbs / 600 seconds
    = 35.6 ft/lbs per second

    Let’s assume that the 65lb barbell was a bit of an ambitious choice and slowed the athlete down.  Reps were slower, confidence in their actually ability to do the movement under fatigue was lower, and thus the breaks in between were longer and some rounds were split up into 5-5.

    Let’s use the example of the same workout, but now using 45lbs which the athlete has no reservations about using and can move quickly and confidently.

    Workout completed with full T2B and 45lbs yields a result of 5 rounds + 12 reps

    52 reps of T2B = 75lbs (1/2 of BW) x 3ft (agreed upon distance)
    = 52 x 225 ft/lbs
    = 11,700 ft/lbs of work from 52 T2B

    60 reps of OHS @ 45lbs
    = 60 reps x 150lbs BW + 45lbs barbell / 2 ft distance
    = 60 reps x 390 ft/lbs
    = 23,400 ft/lbs of work from 60 reps of OHS

    Total work = 11,700 + 23,400 = 35,100 ft/lbs
    Average Power Output = 35,100 ft/lbs / 600 seconds
    = 58.5 ft/lbs per second


    Let’s look at those numbers for a second.

    58.5 ft/lbs per second is a 64.3% increase in average power output from 35.6 ft/lbs per second

    This is important and cannot be understated.  The common argument from the athlete is “I need to go Rx. I don’t feel like I’m getting any better if I don’t” -or something to that affect.

    There are times to push the weights a bit, yes.  Some workouts are meant to be heavy and to slow things down a bit.  But the time when you should be focused on increasing your weights is during our strength and weightlifting portions of class.  Improvements there will lead to the ability to use heavier weights in WOD’s.

    From the perspective of a coach who understands proper scaling, all we are trying to do is find the best movement standards and weights to allow you to produce the greatest average power output and essentially produce the biggest stimulus fitness.



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